FBI arrests student at campus event

Harjit Gill

Harjit Gill

Photo By Tom Angel

Harjit Gill, 21, says he isn’t overly worried about the federal charges he is facing—that he allegedly lied to a grand jury investigating an animal-rights organization. What bothers him more, he said, is his suspicion that the FBI is targeting him not because he committed a crime but because of his beliefs and the color of his skin.

“I’m not guilty of lying to the FBI. I’m not guilty of giving false testimony,” he said. “I’m only worried because my politics are going to be put on trial, my beliefs are going to be put on trial. That’s what I feel is going on.”

Gill, a sociology major at Chico State, was arrested at the BMU Auditorium Nov. 12 while attending a spoken-word performance by former Dead Kennedys front man and political activist Jello Biafra. Gill was held overnight in Oroville and charged the next day in Sacramento with one count of giving false testimony to a grand jury and two counts of lying to a federal officer. Each count carries a possible five-year sentence. Although he was released on his own recognizance, he is barred from traveling outside of inland Northern California.

The charges stem from Gill’s appearance before a federal grand jury in Sacramento that was investigating crimes attributed to the militant animal-rights group Animal Liberation Front (ALF). After giving his testimony, he was indicted by the jury, which allowed the FBI to continue investigating him. Gill, a vegan who is also an anti-war activist, said that while he agrees philosophically with the ALF, he has no knowledge of any crimes committed in its name.

He also said that, while he was truthful in his testimony before the grand jury, he worries that his dark skin and beard might have prejudiced some of the jury members. (Gill was born to Indian parents in the Bay Area and has lived in Butte County since he was 9 years old.)

“It just seemed like, throughout the grand jury [proceedings], the words ‘domestic terrorist’ were thrown around a lot at me. My parents are from India—Punjab—but most people can’t tell the difference anyway. I could be a Muslim from Iraq.”

Another activist who testified before the grand jury, Robert Brooks, of Redding, was arrested a few hours before Gill and charged with similar violations. The investigation of ALF activities in Chico dates back to May, when a pair of gas-filled jugs fitted with fuses were discovered at the Mangrove Avenue McDonald’s, accompanied by spray-painted animal-rights graffiti. The bombs failed to go off, but a few days later a different McDonald’s was slightly damaged by an intentionally lit fire. At least two later incidents were also attributed to the group, including an attempted firebombing of an SUV at Wittmeier Ford and the attempted arson of a shopping center under construction.

The FBI considers the ALF, as well as its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), to be domestic terrorists, although both groups say they make an effort to target only property, not people. Gill, whose next court appearance is set for Dec. 8, has already had several offers of support from local activists and musicians, some of whom are putting together benefit shows and parties to help pay for his defense.